For the past two months, a spate of fire incidents in different parts of the country has weighed on minds of Rwandans who have wondered what could be the causes of such repeated phenomena.
Of course property worth millions and public infrastructure were damaged and, most importantly, people lost lives; so, there are a lot of questions for which people justifiably need answers.
Investigation carried out by competent organs unearthed different causes including mainly poor electrical installations, arson, home appliances and ignorance while for few cases the causes remain unknown.
Obviously, there is a cause behind each fire outbreak. However, irrespective of the causes, resilience is the most critical aspect to stick to, and I expect readers to answer the question “How resilient are our properties?”
Only observational assessment on the reported fire incidents can push anyone to question the resilience of structures including commercial buildings, prisons and factories. Almost all incidents affected outmoded sites with old buildings, inflammable goods and other triggering materials inside.
Facts here are stubborn, just considering some cases like burnt commercial houses in Kigali City Centre commonly known as “Quartier Matheus”, Nyabugogo, the milling factory at Gikondo Industrial Area, and the recently devastated multifunctional building at Muhima (opposite Chez Venant).
The other aspect to question is the durability of construction materials that we use to build houses, taking an example of Rubavu prison where inmates’ dormitory walls were made of iron sheets which were gutted…just to mention a few.
The above examples underscore the rationale of questioning resilience.
Recent fire incidents should be a wakeup call for both the government and citizens to take serious measures to reverse the trend by increasing the resilience of both public and private infrastructure.
Actually people should not beat their brains out, thinking about the causes of the fire outbreaks. Instead, every Rwandan should carry out risk assessment of their property with view to ensuring they can withstand any eventual fire incident irrespective of the cause.
The above simply explains that, though electrical installations, arsonist or any other causes may any time provoke fire, the risks and consequences can be minimised if the properties are resilient.
This requires using durable construction materials for buildings and equipping them with necessary firefighting equipment like extinguishers, smoke detectors, fire exits, CCTV cameras and fire hydrant, especially for commercial structures. Isolation of stores for inflammable materials is also vital for fire prevention.
In addition to equipment, response skills also remain critical for fire prevention.
It’s pitiful to see hundreds of people rush out of a building for only a simple fire or alarm provoked by a smoke detector, with no one thinking about using an extinguisher to contain it.
Many people complain that they are not trained in the use of firefighting equipment. However, in this era of technology and information super highway, especially in Rwanda where access to internet is granted in all services, lack of basic knowledge on how to use a simple extinguisher is inexcusable.
Guidelines and techniques on how to use those basic equipment are freely available at different websites and social media.
Learn from experience
The successive fire incidents should leave lessons to all Rwandan citizens. A fire outbreak is the most destructive disaster that causes enormous losses in a short instant of time.
It can totally disrupt the normal functioning of a community and leave families in ruin. The effects of fire incident can also cause trauma among victims due to unbearable losses.
Hazards are unpreventable; however preparedness can help to minimise the risks.
Ensuring property is another vital preparedness measure which can help overcome the consequences of fire incidents or any other disaster. Actually, people should not be forced to insure their properties; they should do it for their own good.
However, like government enforces tax compliance, traffic rules, among other regulations, insurance against fire, especially for public buildings, will be enforced in order to protect people’s lives.
On July 11, 2014, the Government promulgated Prime Minister’s instructions related to fire prevention in Rwanda. The instructions aim at preventing fire outbreaks at public buildings, public spaces, national parks, in forests, as well as transport and storage facilities.
Those instructions should be observed and embraced by everyone as an effective opportunity to save lives and protect our properties.
The habit of considering the instructions as government-imposed rules should be discouraged because the government’s main mission is to protect and ensure the welfare of all.
Of course, campaigns on those instructions will be carried out at different levels and in the media to raise the awareness of the whole community. Periodic inspections will also be enforced and measures undertaken against any kind of negligence vis-à-vis the implementation of the said instructions.
Prevention and risk reduction is a responsibility of every Rwandan citizen in order to sustain the registered progress and move ahead towards our country’s vision.
The writer is the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midmar)